On November 22, 2016 in a Belgian court there was a “minor victory” for Belgian cannabis social clubs as the prosecution dropped their charge that Mambo Cannabis Club should be dissolved due to being a “danger to public order”. Michel Degens, chairman of Mambo, left the court a free and happy man. The club can still legally exist.
Back in 2013, Michel had been caught red-handed with nearly three and half pounds of cannabis that he was about to distribute to club members.
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I caught up with Michel for an interview the day after the hearing to find out exactly what happened.
Bill Griffin: What happened yesterday?
Michel Degens: Yesterday we went to court as the prosecutor was asking for the dissolution of our club. The prosecutor didn’t post his case. Basically he dropped the charges against us due to the fact that we had changed the statutes of our club. We removed the growing one plant per member statue of our club. So the club can still exist but we cannot grow cannabis for our members.
BG: I see, so it’s just a social club now?
MD: Yes, we are trying to get back the ability to grow as soon as possible but for this moment this is not possible. In Antwerp there are different rules to Hasselt.
BG: So Trekt Uw Plant (Belgium’s first cannabis social club, based in Antwerp) is still operating as it always has?
MD: Yes, and they have no problem whatsoever.
BG: So Mambo will still exist but it is no longer cultivating cannabis and distributing to its members?
MD: No, at this point we are not doing that, no. Because I was convicted for doing that (referring to previous penal case).
BG: For cultivation and distribution?
BG: And the charges for promoting drug use where not even a part of yesterday?
MD: No, all charges were dropped and the judge appeared to not be very happy about it because normally the prosecutor should have presented some paperwork to the judge yesterday which he didn’t and that’s gonna happen next Tuesday. The prosecutor orally confirmed to the judge that he dropped the case and next week he is going to put it on paper. That’s gonna be presented next week and then it is final.
BG: Do you have to appear in court next week?
BG: What is the next step for Mambo?
MD: We’re going to see with our members what would be a wise thing to do and see how we are going to continue on. For now we will focus more on our lobbying activities I think. To obtain a permit or permission or something of that kind.
BG: So you will be lobbying on a local Hasselt level or a national level?
MD: Just as we were on both, any level possible.
BG: How would you foresee getting permission to grow?
MD: I don’t know yet. We would try to work something out that would be the most logical step.
BG: Maybe a partnership with a university or something like that could help?
MD: Yes, something along those lines we should be thinking.
BG: Do you think that after yesterday the legal situation for the club is any clearer to you?
MD: Yes, a little bit, but it isn’t what we hoped for. We can exist so that is already something because that was at stake here.
BG: Because originally they wanted to completely disband the club?
MD: Yes, they wanted to dissolve us.
BG: Do you think that this is a victory for Belgium Cannabis Clubs?
MD: Not a big one, a small one in a very big war. It’s a minor victory.
BG: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a cannabis club in Belgium?
MD: To go for it! And see what happens. Talk to your local council first. Everything starts there. If they want it on a local level or not.
BG: For example, as you found the difference between Hasselt and Antwerp on a local level?
MD: In Antwerp there is no issue whatsoever. So it all depends on the locality. It’s clear that Hasselt is not going to be the place where they tolerate it. Because you need a certain tolerance for it now in Belgium and there is some tolerance in Antwerp but I’ve not seen that tolerance here in Hasselt. More the opposite. I hope that science can reach out and help us out on this one maybe in the future. After the case yesterday, I’m not going to rush into anything. I will first consult our members and see what they want. Because it is them that we are representing. Then we see how we take it from there, you know? I learnt to take one step at a time.
BG: Do you think a move out of Hasselt might help the situation?
MD: It would help the situation but… There is something I have to finish here. I like my town. I like living here and I’m not gonna move because of that. That would be the easy option. That’s not what we are going to choose, the easy option.
BG: So it’s very much a principle thing for you? To stand up for your right to have this operating?
MD: Yes. That’s correct. We think we have the right. We have the Ministerial Guidelines of 2005. It’s a shame that they try to eradicate us and invest so much in trying to get rid of us in Hasselt. You know, there are much better ways to spend the money. Especially in these times. I’m confident that change is on the way. I’m very confident about that. There is no stopping the train of the international evolution. The benefits have been proven already.
BG: What do you think is going to happen next week in court?
MD: Nothing special. The prosecutor is gonna present his paperwork to the judge then normally it will take a few weeks before the final judgement. It’s clear what is going to happen if they’re gonna drop the changes you know…
BG: So the charges will be dropped, they didn’t have the paperwork yesterday, so next week they have to hand in the paperwork, then it is resolved and filed away?
MD: Next week they have to have the paperwork that they confirm they have dropped the charges against us. So that’s technically more or less what is going and and what is happening.
BG: Kind of an anticlimax?
MD: Yes, because our lawyer, he was very ready to plea the plea of his life and he’d prepared so much for it and it didn’t even come to that.
BG: So you didn’t even know that they were going to drop the charges?
MD: No, no. I was quite moved to be honest. You know I didn’t expect it. It was nothing the way we perceived it would happen but it did happen and that’s a good thing.
BG: So going back to when you got arrested. The fallout from that is basically that the club can no longer grow and distribute cannabis?
BG: But you didn’t receive any kind of punishment?
MD: No, I didn’t receive any punishment for it.
BG: No fines, nothing?
BG: And everything that was confiscated was returned?
MD: No, nothing was returned.
BG: OK, so all grow equipment, all plants, all the members’ product that you were going to give to them, everything was confiscated?
MD: Everything was confiscated and lost. That’s correct. It’s not a very nice experience but it is what it is, you know? On a personal level, Bill, I’m very happy that the club can still exist. We need to wait for better times now and to see how to take it from here.
BG: When will the next club meeting be?
MD: I think we’re gonna consult the members. I’m going to take a little rest for a little bit. Turn things around in my head. And have a discussion with the members. Probably at the beginning of next year.